Cop tale in suspense over TNT's pickup plans

The life of a TV drama can be just as dramatic as the turbulent world of its characters.

Case in point: TNT’s “Southland,” which airs its season finale tonight.

The cop show went through a near-death experience when it was suddenly dropped by NBC — only to be picked up last fall by TNT for its second season.

Then, while it was shooting in a rough Los Angeles neighborhood, a melee added scary authenticity to the show’s portrayal of police life on the streets.

And in a final moment of suspense, the creators are holding their breath, wondering if TNT will renew “Southland” for a third season.

“The actors are on hold and there’s a cutoff date in June by which they have to be notified,” says producer Christopher Chulack. “We’re hoping for a decision in mid-to-late April.”

A greenlight would let Chulack continue with his fly-on-the-wall drama, which makes audiences “feel like they’re on patrol with the cops. You only know what they know. You’re never ahead of them.”

“Southland” is shot entirely in Los Angeles locations with small, mostly handheld Red digital cameras. “They’re easier to get into back seats, can shoot over the cage, then be handed out the window to continue the shot when the cops get out of the car,” says Chulack.

On one occasion the show’s realism almost got out of control. In the first episode of season two, one scene was shot in an area called the jungle, just south of the Baldwin Hills district. “We invited local people to be in that scene and got all the right permissions from neighborhood shot-callers,” says Chulack, who helmed the episode.

The script called for a crowd to riot against police activity in the neighborhood. Then something unexpected happened. A woman in the scene who was behaving in an unruly manner left the location and returned to her nearby apartment, where she had an altercation. “All of a sudden 10 cop cars and a helicopter were pulling up for a drug investigation,” Chulack recalls.

“Then all these real cops spotted us and came down to see what we were doing. So now the sketchy guys who were in the scene working with us see all these real cops, and it got kind of tense. When you see (actor) Michael Cudlitz struggling to get back into the car with people squashing and pushing him, that’s real. The intensity and the spontaneity on the cast members’ faces when people are screaming at them, that’s real.”

Such realism, says Chulack, wouldn’t have been possible on a production using large cameras, dollies and directors chairs. “We didn’t have a video village — just men with cameras on their shoulders.”

Chulack spoke to Daily Variety from Wilmington, N.C., where he’s shooting a new medical drama for CBS. How will he juggle the new project and “Southland” if the latter gets picked up? “I hope I have that problem,” he says.

Bookings & Signings:

Gersh Agency TV pilot bookings: d.p.’s Paul Sarossy on Showtime’s “Borgias,” Arthur Albert on ABC’s “The Gates,” Patrick Cady on TBS’ “Uncle Nigel,” Sharone Meir on ABC’s “Edgar Floats,” Edward Pei on CBS’ “ATF,” Shelly Johnson on a new CBS medical drama and J. Michael Muro on ABC’s “187 Detroit”; production designers William Sandell on the Eye’s medical show, Leslie Dilley on CBS’ “Quinn-Tuplets,” Devorah Herbert on CBS’ “The Odds” and Richard Lassalle on ABC’s “Cutthroat.”

Gersh costume designers assigned to pilots: Tom Broeker on Comedy Central’s “John Heder,” Mynka Draper on CBS’ “The Odds,” Carol Ramsey on ABC’s “Body of Evidence,” Mary Vogt on NBC’s “The Event,” Mary Jane Fort on TBS’ “Glory Daze,” Karen Matthews on ABC’s “True Blue” and Joseph Porro on NBC’s “The Cape”; editors Alan Cody on ABC’s “Generation Y” and Sidney Wolinsky on CBS’ “Reagan’s Law”; and line producer Paul Kurta on CBS’ “The Odds.”

Gersh signings: d.p. Clark Mathis (“Meet Dave”), editor Barry Alexander Brown (“Inside Man”), Susan Kirr (“Tree of Life”) and production designer Rick Butler (“Bored to Death”).

Marsh Entertainment has booked d.p. Michael R. Lohmann on A&E pilot “Sugarloaf.” Westside Artists bookings: costume designer Luis Sequeira on Matthijs van Heijningen Jr.’s “The Thing,” and production designers Robert Howeth on William Dear’s “Politics of Love” and Dan Davis on Julian Farino’s “The Oranges.”

Tech note

Finally, a location-scout iPhone app. Panavision has introduced Panascout, an app that simulates what a cinematographer sees using a professional camera. The company says the system’s “intuitive workflow allows filmmakers to capture the cinematic qualities of any location and record the true metadata, including GPS, compass heading, date/time, voice notes and a sunrise/sunset readout” for their location. Images can be framed in a variety of aspect ratios.

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